Cubs: Craig Kimbrel has quickly re-established his trade value this season

(Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
(Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images) /

Craig Kimbrel looked like the Kimbrel of old for the Chicago Cubs late in the abbreviated 2020 season, but given all the extenuating circumstances, nobody really knew whether to believe in it or not. After a rocky start to spring training, I think it’s safe to say we all had our doubts. But with April in the rearview mirror, we can now safely say that Craig Kimbrel is very much back.

He got the month of May started on the right foot, locking down the Cubs’ win over the Reds on Saturday in Cincinnati, masterfully walking the tight rope in the ninth. After Tyler Stephenson and Tucker Barnhart opened the frame with back-to-back singles, the Reds had men on the corners with nobody out, trailing by one run.

From there, Kimbrel struck out Alex Blandino and Tyler Naquin looking on two absolutely nasty pitches before getting Nicholas Castellanos to ground to second to end the ballgame and give Chicago a 3-2 win.

That marked Kimbrel’s fifth save of the season and his scoreless streak to open the campaign has now stretched to 11 innings. He’s struck out 17 and worked to a 0.818 WHIP – while overcoming the walks he’s given up to re-emerge as a dominant late-inning presence.

Given the Cubs, at best, seem like a .500 club, there’s pretty much no doubt in my mind at this point that Chicago will trade Kimbrel this season. Buster Olney believes the team could start listening as early as June in hopes of jumping the trade market in July – and if you’re a contender one big arm away from becoming a serious threat come October, the veteran right-hander could be just the ticket.

A Craig Kimbrel trade seems like a guarantee for the Cubs

If the front office does indeed go that route, Kimbrel could join the likes of Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and others who are sent packing. Obviously, that would represent the most significant roster reshaping in recent memory and would firmly shut the door on the most successful era in team history.

Kimbrel is in the final year of the three-year, $43 million contract he inked with Chicago during the 2019 campaign. Making $16 million this season, a team that acquires him mid-season would only be on the hook for roughly half that amount – a more than palatable sum for a guy who’s giving up pretty much no hard contact and has shown he’s still more than capable of overpowering hitters.

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For now, we can all just sit back and watch with confidence when he gets the ball in the ninth inning. Kimbrel hasn’t been this dominant at any point in his Cubs career. And, honestly, it’s pretty ironic that the first thought that comes to mind in the wake of his performance is his value to the team solely as a trade chip.